While schools are thinking about how and when to reopen their buildings during the pandemic, many find themselves overwhelmed by the potential costs associated with working under social distance guidelines: protective equipment, staff for smaller classes, and extra transportation to spread students rides on the bus.
The burdens are particularly high for urban neighborhoods with few resources, which often have neither the space nor the budgets to house new health protocols.
In Hartford, Connecticut, Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez shudders at how he could afford a scenario where each teacher had dramatically fewer students. In some classes, she said, she has individual teachers with as many as 27 students in their class.
“My budget wouldn’t exist,” she said.
The vast majority of U.S. school districts have not yet announced when they will resume personal instruction. The outbreak trajectory remains uncertain, and many are waiting for directions from their states. Many are developing plans for at least some distance learning, and budgets are one of the factors that can determine how much they do from afar.
In Camden, New Jersey, one of the poorest cities in the state, Superintendent Katrina McCombs said the cost of cleaning the classroom, protective equipment, and other virus-related expenses is worrying, especially as the city relies on cash from a state government facing a $ 10 billion deficit for the current and next fiscal year.
New Jersey has not yet issued guidelines for school reopening, but McCombs said she hopes the governor will leave flexibility for major city districts like hers, where families are particularly at risk of exposure, given the number of multi-generational households.
“I think the big thing that immediately comes to mind … when I think only of that logistics of our city, I hope the governor can take those unique factors into account when rolling out those recommendations, especially in our big boroughs, “she said.
As schools reopen, the average school district costs about $ 1.8 million to allow for social distance, according to an estimate published by the School Superintendents Association, which carries the name AASA, and the Association of School Business Officials International. The cost will tax the budgets of districts bracing for cuts from the economic downturn and hoping for additional federal aid.
“You have a sharp rise in costs for school districts at a time when school districts will have less money. Why? Because you see that all state budgets will be decimated, “said Dan Domenech, AASA Executive Director.” How will that work out? “
In the city of Stonington, Connecticut, school board president Alexa Garvey said it would help tremendously with finances if the state relaxed the guidance for the summer that there should be only one student in each seat of a bus. There are also unresolved questions about offering masks.
“Does every child need a mask?” she said. “What are our obligations to supply those masks?”
The chief inspector of the Florida Public Schools district in Miami-Dade County, one of the largest in the country, said during a recent National Press Club panel that it is considering the input of teachers and parents as to how education can be continued in light of the changes imposed by the pandemic and associated costs.
“Based on the demands of social distance and precautionary measures, there will not be enough money to restore the old system to full functionality,” said Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.
Schools with more resources will have more options.
The affluent city of Greenwich, Connecticut, where the school system has 12.2 students for each teacher and on-staff instructor, like many others, is developing approaches to different scenarios. To maintain social distance when buildings reopen, Chief Inspector Toni Jones said the district could use media centers, cafes and other spaces for classrooms to disperse staff.
In Hartford, which has 14.7 students per teacher, the district serves many poverty-stricken communities and also draws in thousands of students from 60 other cities through school choice programs. The chief inspector there said that the challenges associated with reopening are so serious that it’s time to come up with all-new models for instruction.
“Should the entire ecosystem be explored?” Torres-Rodriguez said. “When we go to smaller classes, where do we get more teachers from?”
“We know that we currently have experts in our community. We have our company. We have our industry. We have a higher education, ”she said. So how can we use our retirees, for example? How will we use our college students? Industry? I just think it’s an opportunity. ‘
Kantele Franko in Columbus, Ohio contributed to this report. Catalini reported from Trenton, New Jersey, and Melia reported from Hartford.
This story has been updated to correct the name of the AASA Executive Director for Dan Domenech, rather than Ben Domenech.
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